OP-ED: Restore Gov. Wolf's funding to treat addiction


Last month, a report from the Pennsylvania Coroners Association reported that at least seven Pennsylvanians are dying every day from drug overdoses. The number of deaths from drug overdoses now surpasses car accident-related deaths in Pennsylvania and 35 other states.

According to the Trust for America's Health, heroin and opioid addiction has become the primary public health epidemic in the commonwealth. Substance abuse and addiction afflicts at least one out of four families in Pennsylvania. These families are rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, and of all races and religious persuasions.

For these reasons, I hope the General Assembly will reconsider the budget proposal eliminating $6 million in Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed funding for the Departments of Human Services and Drug and Alcohol Programs to address this growing epidemic.

Gov. Wolf's budget proposal includes $7.5 million for programs to treat addiction and save lives from overdoses, and he has asked state agencies to work together to lead abuse prevention efforts, treat the disease of addiction with and reduce overdoses. The administration has marshalled a statewide collaborative effort to address this epidemic head on.

An overwhelming body of research shows that every dollar spent on treatment saves taxpayers seven dollars within 12 months of the expenditure. These savings are generated from reduced prison and other criminal justice costs, health care costs and social assistance.

Additionally, research shows that clinically appropriate treatment makes our streets and homes safer, reducing criminal recidivism by more than two-thirds. By providing long enough drug and alcohol addiction treatment, provided with clinical integrity, we transform criminal offenders into law-abiding, working, taxpaying Pennsylvanians.

Further, we know that lives are being saved by the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone. Last year, members of the General Assembly joined together and passed the bipartisan measure to allow state and municipal police to carry the lifesaving drug. The Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health and the PSP have all been working together on to ensure that patrol cars have the drug as another tool to protect and serve citizens in need.

Since the General Assembly passed this law late last year, municipal police officers across the commonwealth have saved nearly 200 lives; recently, the Pennsylvania State Police saved its first life in Uniontown with naloxone, and police officers and medics revived another person in Pittsburgh, while a news crew was filming nearby. While these individuals now have another chance at life, we must be ready with the treatment they need to recover from addiction.

Today, I respectfully ask the General Assembly to reconsider this action, and follow up the public-spirited overdose legislation of last fall, by reinstating the full funding dedicated by Governor Wolf back into their budget proposal. The lives of our loved ones are at stake.

— Gary Tennis is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.